Italy: Limoncello; Capri restaurants; Anchovies

GourmetGrrl Bites Food with ‘tude
October 12, 2005

Arrivederci, Italia… This is our last report from the land of sun and pasta. Next week we’re putting away our passport and getting back to edibles from the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Cin Cin!
GourmetGrrl, aka Laura Holmes

Grrl with Corkscrew
Lemons with a Twist. What are those tiny glasses of pale yellow liquid the Italians are tossing back after dinner? It’s limoncello [lee-mon-CHE-lo], a liqueur made by infusing lemon skins in pure alcohol, with a little sugar thrown in.

The Italians are the world’s largest producer of lemons, and limoncello puts those babies to good use. But these aren’t ordinary lemons: the lemons that grow on Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula on the Amalfi Coast are the size of grapefruits and have a higher concentration of lemon oil in the zest, with a sweeter, more concentrated flavor. (Sorrento and Capri are known for making the best limoncello in Italy, although the Sicilians are a close second.)

Limoncello is a family thing in Italy; each family (and most restaurants) have their own recipe (and a cellar full of the stuff). The Grrl found out firsthand that if you’re celebrating something – be it a birthday, a marriage, or a Tuesday – you’ll be served a glass of limoncello on the house, and you better finish it. Given that it’s 60 proof, you’ll be one happy birthday grrl or boy.

To continue the lemon love in your very own home, pick up a bottle and keep it in the freezer. Serve limoncello ice-cold in small glasses after dessert. (To the Italians limoncello is a digestivo – it’s supposed to aid your digestion.) Stick to Limoncello di Capri and Villa Massa brands; they’re the most authentic. (The retail price is around $25 a bottle.)

Check, Please
Capri Eats. When you arrive on the island on Capri [CAH-pree], the scent of the cedar trees and the blue, blue sea may lure you into such a state of relaxation that you collapse at the first restaurant you see. Stop, breathe, and get out our list of places to eat.

Our first recommendation is located in a small hotel called Villa Brunella, but this isn’t hotel food. Imagine a glass- enclosed restaurant with a view of the cliffs and the marina below. Thank God the food is as good as the view: we inhaled the luscious scaloppine di vitello (veal cutlet with lemon), light-as-a-feather gnocchi (little potato dumplings), and risotto di mare (a creamy seafood risotto). A dish of homemade gelati almost put us over the edge.

No less dramatic is Le Grottelle, a trattoria built into limestone rock perched right over the sea. You can get there by strolling on a walking path or by hiking up a trail on the Arco Naturale (think Stairmaster times one hundred). But all that hard work is rewarded when you taste their seafood (grilled local fish or any of the seafood pastas), their house-made rosemary garlic flatbread, and the silky ravioli capresi, stuffed with soft sheep’s cheese in a light tomato sauce. While you’re checking out the wine list, just remember that you have to walk back.

Ristorante Villa Brunella
Via Tragara 24a, Capri
Tel 39 081 837 01 22

Le Grottelle
Via Arco Naturale 13, Anacapri
Tel 081 83 75 719
Reservations a must; closed November – March

Grrl, Fishy
Acciuga Mia. The one thing Americans seem troubled by in Italy is that little innocent fish the anchovy. Open a menu in southern Italy and you can’t miss the acciuga [ah-CHU-ga]: accenting pasta sauces (the famous spaghetti puttanesca would have no oomph without anchovies), layered on pizza, and grilled, drizzled with olive oil, and served as a first course. But these aren’t the scary little fish that lurk on American grocery store shelves; you’re in Italy, after all.

Technically speaking, anchovies are small saltwater fish related to the herring. They can be cooked fresh but are usually sold packed in salt, tinned or jarred in oil, or as a paste in tubes. (The Sicilian anchovies are smaller and milder in flavor than the Spanish anchovies.)

Look for Italian anchovies in specialty markets; save those tinned ones for your cat. The salt-packed fish are actually less salty after you rinse them (which is a must), so we throw them on crostini and serve them whole. Save the oil-packed anchovies for pizza and other dishes that need a punch of flavor. (If you don’t use them all, place the anchovies in a jar of olive oil and refrigerate for up to a month.)

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